After days of mediation among the warring AIADMK groups in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has succeeded in creating partial unity, however fragile it may be, in the party. The stubborn group, led by former chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS), was forced to seek indirect endorsement of its candidate, Thennarasu, for the Erode East Assembly bypoll, from the rival group led by former CM O Panneerselvam (OPS).
The BJP, which took on the role of interlocutor and indulged in Shuttle Diplomacy, convinced Panneerselvam to withdraw his group’s candidate as the Supreme Court order and the Election Commission had brought his group back into the reckoning by treating it as part of an undivided AIADMK. For the EPS group, it was a case of eating humble pie, as the group which claimed that OPS and his supporters had been expelled from the party and that it would have no place in the organisation, had to accept the SC directive that the OPS group should also be consulted on the candidate and allowed participation in the candidate selection process.
Yielding grounds to each other
The EPS group had to climb down from its stand of untouchability as far as the OPS group was concerned, but go through the motions of consultation or approval from the OPS group for its candidate, Thennarasu. EPS also had to agree to step aside from the process as the Supreme Court had authorised the Presidium Chairman to undertake the process of candidate selection and endorsement by both the groups.
Also read: Erode East bypoll: OPS faction may withdraw candidate after SC interim order
In that respect, both groups can claim victory, even while yielding ground to the other. For EPS, he has to rest satisfied with the candidature of Thennarasu, as a common candidate of both the groups, and not as his nominee. It must be particularly galling for him that the candidature of Thennarasu is to be seen by the SC and the Election Commission as a candidate put up by Presidium Chairman Hussain as a common candidate.
The SC and the EC had disregarded the stand taken by him that he was elected interim General Secretary and had the authority to take decisions on behalf of the party, and that OPS was an outsider and not a party member. The decision authorising Hussain was also described by the SC and the EC as a temporary decision, and that the main petition regarding validity or otherwise of the EPS group’s earlier General Council meeting would be heard later. While EPS can gloat over the fact that Thennarasu would get the AIADMK Two Leaves symbol, OPS can be happy that he lives to fight on another day, and that the SC had opened the door for his re-entry into the AIADMK.
A tactical retreat
The facade of unity brought about by BJP would also be further tested in the days to come amidst rival claims of the two groups during campaigning for the February 27 bypoll.
The BJP can draw solace from the fact that it has tried to put up a strong candidate against the DMK-Congress combine for the bypoll, and also avert taking sites in the ongoing crisis within the AIADMK groups. The BJP has been accused of other parties and even by a section of AIADMK leadership like former minister C Ponnaiyan that the BJP was trying to fish in troubled waters by keeping the AIADMK divided, and therefore the national party was forced to don the role of a mediator and demonstrate that it was for unity and not discord.
Also read: OPS-EPS feud could largely benefit BJP, say observers, leaders
OPS can derive satisfaction from the outcome of the mediation as the group has again demonstrated that it is closer to the BJP than the EPS group. Secondly, the OPS group has tried to avoid the charge of sabotaging AIADMK chances in the bypoll. Instead, by facilitating the party symbol coming to the candidate, the OPS group has neatly tossed the ball back into the EPS court, as a defeat for the EPS group candidate in the bypoll despite having the AIADMK symbol would be highlighted by the OPS group as yet another failure of the EPS group in overcoming the DMK. In the last four elections, the DMK has trounced the AIADMK under Palaniswamy’s leadership.
The blame for a defeat, this time in Erode district, which is generally a stronghold of the AIADMK, would rest squarely with Palaniswamy, and OPS would have another opportunity to take potshots at Palaniswamy, a “failed leader”.
Thus, OPS strategy is seen as a tactical retreat, not exposing his own weakness in the bypoll, but preventing EPS from using the OPS group as a scapegoat for his own failures and dismal performance.
The BJP, on its part, has presented a picture of an avid AIADMK supporter even while helping OPS at every stage, and thus keeps alive its hopes in the 2024 LS polls in Tamil Nadu.